I first became aware of The Steel Wheels somewhere around 2008. I had picked up a CD of the Shenandoah Valley-based band on one of our Thanksgiving trips to Staunton and was introduced to and intrigued by the unique voice and careful songcraft of lead singer and songwriter Trent Wagler.
But it was at Merlefest in 2012 that the band pushed their way into the front part of my brain, and, I suspect, the brains of thousands of other music fans as well. After one of the main acts wrapped up their show, as I wrote at the time, a number of attendees were exiting the main stage area on the first night of the festival. Suddenly, The Steel Wheels began singing their powerful Rain in the Valley on a small side stage. And like bees flowing to honey, those leaving stopped, turned around, and were glued to their seats through a spirited 30-minute set.
As expected, later TSW shows throughout the weekend were packed, as word spread fast. And just like that, they quickly jumped up into my consciousness.
The band is based out of Harrisonburg where several of them met during their college years. In addition to Wagler, who handles the lead vocals, banjo, and guitar, the band consists of Jay Lapp on mandolin, guitar, more recently electric guitar, and vocals; Brian Dickel on bass and vocals; fiddler and vocalist Eric Brubaker; and the most recent addition, Kevin Joaquin Garcia, on percussion and keyboards. The band is coming up on its 10th album, and has — since 2013 — curated and produced their own festival in Mount Solon, Virginia. I’ve attended their Red Wing Roots Music Festival several times since that inaugural year, and it is always a treat.
I’m posting some of my favorite TSW tunes in the hopes you’ll enjoy the selections. We’ll begin with some of their older material like the beautiful Halfway to Heaven, the funky Breakin’ Like the Sun, and the wistful The End of the World Again:
Here TSW take an extended instrumental jam on Long Way to Go.
Next we’ll move into some of the band’s later tunes, including the title cut from their album Wild As We Came Here, the tune Scrape Me Off the Ceiling, one of their newer cuts, Broken Mandolin, and a cover of The Shape I’m In from Vol. 2 of their live album set.
I’ll end this exploration with The Steel Wheels take on the great bluegrass/gospel tune Working on a Building.
The Steel Wheels always deliver an energetic and entertaining live show. Catch them when touring begins again. Until then, enjoy what you can find online or on your favorite music streaming platform.
More to come…
Image of The Steel Wheels at Red Wing Roots Music Festival by DJB